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Robbers Dupe Trusting Afghans

Foreign criminals take advantage of local belief that overseas visitors are wealthy and honest.
By IWPR Afghanistan

It’s a common assumption among Afghans that all foreigners are rich - and a new breed of robbers appears to be exploiting this for their own ends.


Foreign-looking crooks, wearing western-style dress and frequently speaking English, have been responsible for a spate of thefts from Kabul stores - especially pharmacies - netting at least 150,000 US dollars since the beginning of last month.


Police in the capital have so far arrested one Turkish man and two Iranians in connection with the robberies, but now similar crimes are being reported in Herat, Kunduz, and Mazar-e-Sharif.


The thieves are believed to be part of a well-organised team, as the incidents follow a distinct pattern. While the robbers use a variety of tricks to deceive shopkeepers, they all depend on – and take advantage of – Afghans’ common belief that all foreign visitors have a lot of money.


Drugstore owner Rahman Wali told IWPR about the day two blonde men wearing jeans, shirts and cowboy hats entered the shop, talking in English among themselves. “One of them had an empty packet of tablets in his hand and wanted some more. I didn’t have any in stock, so I went out to another shop to buy them that medicine.


“I thought that as they were wealthy foreigners, they wouldn’t steal from us poor people. But when I came back they had gone - and they had taken 70,000 Pakistani rupees [around 1,200 dollars] from my safe.”


The Nafees Medicose store was robbed of 6,000 dollars, after the trusting owner allowed two foreign visitors to count out money from his safe while he was changing a 100 dollar bill for them.


Sometimes the robbers use diversion tactics to throw shopkeepers off their guard, as pharmacy owner Abdullah Amin discovered.


Two Arabic speakers, claiming to work at the Saudi Arabian embassy, visited his shop. One, a woman, produced a full syringe and asked Amin to administer the medicine to her. He did so – and the woman seemed to lose consciousness after a few minutes.


“We were terribly worried. The man who was accompanying the woman was pacing the store in an agitated fashion while we were all tending to her. When she recovered, the two left the shop – and half an hour later we found that 1,000 dollars had been taken from the safe,” said Amin.


Police investigating the crimes this month achieved a breakthrough, arresting two Iranian citizens, one of whom allegedly confessed to committing robberies in around 50 locations in the capital and surrounding areas. Officers believe he used a bizarre technique to commit his crimes - a magnetic device that can lower a person’s blood pressure to the point where they faint.


Investigations chief Mohammad Farid said that when the man was arrested he was found to be carrying three of these devices, and alleged that he had somehow tricked shopkeepers into using it on themselves.


In a separate case, alert shop workers helped Kabul officers detain a man at Ghulam Hussein’s carpet market who had introduced himself as a Turkish businessman. They became increasingly suspicious as the customer talked very fast and acted strangely. The police were called and the man was arrested.


He later told conflicting stories about why he was in Afghanistan, but maintained his innocence. Officers believe he is responsible for a number of thefts, as when his photo was broadcast on Kabul TV 50 people filed complaints claiming that he had stolen money from their shops.


Farid told IWPR that while the Turkish man had been working with other foreigners, he’s suspected to have Afghan accomplices.


Abdullah Paikar is an independent journalist in Kabul.


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